China’s Box Office: A (Brand) New China


By Albert Wang for China Film Biz

March 26, 2012

Last week saw a film that has made news headlines of late (but for all the wrong reasons) take the number one spot at the box office in mainland China.  John Carter, which Disney announced will result in a massive $200 million loss for the company, succeeded in usurping Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse at the top of the Chinese box office, taking in a solid $14 million over its first three days of screenings.  John Carter easily outdistanced the Hong Kong/China co-production A Simple Life, which earned $3.5 million to hold on to the second spot for the second week in a row.

Debuting at number three was the Hong Kong action/thriller Nightfall, starring Nick Cheung, which earned $3.1 million in its first four days.  War Horse dropped three spots to number four, earning $2.6 million for the week, while Jason Statham’s action film Blitz (2011) debuted modestly to capture fifth place with $1.5 million over four days.

For the first time in six weeks, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island landed outside the top 5, collecting $1.4 million to raise its China cume to an impressive $58 million, or nearly 20 percent of the film’s worldwide revenue.

Although John Carter was a drastic under-performer for Disney in the key North American market, the film opened extremely well in China. Carter’s $14 million debut ranked third amongst all opening weekends in the PRC this year behind Mission Impossible’s $15.7 million 2-day haul in late January, and Journey 2’s $15.2 million over three days in early February. More and more often China is becoming Hollywood’s biggest international territory, which goes to show just how strong the “Made in Hollywood” brand is there.

In his book As China Goes, So Goes the World: How Chinese Consumers are Transforming Everything, author Karl Gerth describes the rapidly evolving Chinese consumer culture. Gerth contrasts David Ogilvy’s visit to China in the early 1980s with the PRC’s consumer market of today. Thirty years ago, Ogilvy encountered a country with a near-total absence of advertising, and what advertisements there were contained little more than technical information, with no evocative images of the products to pique the interest of potential consumers.

Fast forward to today, and advertising in China is a giant industry, with over eighty thousand ad companies employing over a million people, making the Chinese advertising sector a larger employer than its counterpart in the United States.  And along with this growth has come a complete transformation of Chinese consumer culture.  To highlight this point, Karl Gerth quotes a thirty-something professional woman in Beijing: “Brand names are social status and quality of life. When I was in the United States, I didn’t pay much attention to brand names.  Here it’s a culture. Look at me now; I’m equipped with nothing but brand names, such as Gucci, Fendi, Armani, Versace, and the like.”

However, unlike in the United States, where ultimately it is left to the individual company to create its brand identity, in China, the central government views the development of strong national brands as an issue of national economic security, and thus takes a hands-on approach to the ongoing development of Chinese consumerism.

Gerth mentions that Chinese officials are hoping to emulate Japan’s success in rebranding its national products.  Today, the “Made in Japan” is a signifier of quality and excellence in consumer goods, but this was not always the case.  Forty years ago, a consumer product labeled “Made in Japan” would have been viewed as inferior to its American counterpart.

China’s current situation with its national brand identity is quite similar in certain ways to Japan’s forty years ago, but it remains to be seen whether China can successfully rebrand itself.  There are a few internationally recognized Chinese brands that signify quality, Lenovo being one of them. But one need only look back over the past few years to be reminded of big scandals involving Chinese goods that have done more to sully the “Made in China” brand than any successful Chinese brands have been able to help elevate the global reputation of Chinese products.

And so perhaps it might be helpful for those of us in the international film scene to look at what is going on with China’s film industry and theatrical market within the broader context of what is going on with Chinese consumer goods and culture in general. After all, for Chinese consumers, the preference for things made in the West extends far beyond movies, and the Chinese government’s film quota system and film co-production rules can be viewed as being very much in line with the tariffs and regulations that Beijing places on imported goods in other industries as well.  Many Chinese consumers meanwhile are caught between their general desire to support Chinese businesses and their genuine fondness for American and other Western consumer goods, and it will be interesting to see if and when the brand “Made in China” will start appealing to mainland Chinese consumers just as much as “Made in America” does today.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

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China’s Box Office: A Simple Life’s Strong Debut


by Albert Wang for China Film Biz

March 19, 2012

This past week saw Steven Spielberg’s War Horse repeat as the top film at the mainland Chinese box office, taking in $5.9 million to bring its total two-week haul to $14.7 million.  Falling one place from #2 to #3 was Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which earned $3.4 million for the week to bring its cumulative box office total to a cool $56.6 million over 31 days of screening.

Debuting at #4 was Robert Rodriguez’ Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World in 4D, bringing in $3 million for the week, while Conan the Barbarian dropped to fifth place with $2.8 million in its second week of release to bring its total box office to $5.9 million.

Perhaps the most interesting news at the box office was the successful debut of  A Simple Life, starring Hong Kong star Andy Lau, which brought in $5.2 million in just 4 days.  This was good enough to earn the film the number 2 spot at the box office, making it the lone non-Hollywood film among the week’s top 5.

The success of A Simple Life serves as a reminder of the amazing talent that the Chinese filmmaking diaspora has to offer.  Ann Hui, the film’s director, is one of the foremost talents of the groundbreaking Hong Kong New Wave of the 1970s and 80s, which included Tsui Hark and John Woo among the film movement’s notable members.  For many Chinese people around the world, Hong Kong cinema has served as the de facto source of Chinese cinema for decades, and its influence on even Hollywood cinema has been well documented.

After about a decade of depression in the Taiwan film industry, Taiwanese cinema has seen a significant revival, starting in 2008 with the highly popular Cape No. 7 breaking Taiwan box office records despite its lack of name celebrities.  This trend of successful films that eschew established Taiwanese stars continued with Monga (2010), Night Market Hero (2011), and Seediq Bale (2011).

As was previously mentioned in China Film Biz, Taiwanese films have also found recent success at the mainland Chinese box office.  In just the first 8 weeks of 2012, three films by Taiwanese directors each grossed $8 million or better, and have collectively grossed almost $40 million. Hong Kong/China and Taiwan/China co-productions have collectively taken in over $139 million at the Chinese box office this year for about a third of the overall box office.

Chinese-American filmmakers must also be mentioned in this context. NYU educated and long-time U.S. resident Ang Lee as been on the global stage for nearly two decades, and his game-changing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became a catalyst in the conversations about global Chinese cinema.  And Justin Lin has established himself as one of Hollywood’s more successful directors with his popular installments in the Fast & Furious series. Lin has also made it a priority to cast Asian Americans in supporting roles in his globally popular movies.

Mainland China also has the talent necessary to make globally successful movies, with filmmakers like Feng Xiaogang and Zhang Yimou often leading the charge at the domestic and global box offices.  And there are other talented filmmakers who haven’t had the box office success of the aforementioned directors but who would probably be just as capable of directing a successful “global Chinese film”, if given the right opportunity.

But what will a global Chinese cinema look like?  It can’t and shouldn’t be a mirror image of what Hollywood has created with its big-budget blockbusters, movies that are often focused more on grand visual spectacle than on the intricacies of a well-told story.

Rather than just pumping money into the film industry while simultaneously imposing creativity-stifling restrictions on its local filmmakers, the Chinese government needs to have a clearer vision of what it hopes to achieve with a global Chinese cinema, so that it can give all the filmmakers in the Chinese diaspora a greater license to creatively explore and produce groundbreaking “Chinese” cinema that the whole world can enjoy.

Even if the government wishes to continue to exercise ultimate control over the content being turned out by its film industry, China needs to make explicit and streamline the rules by which it wants its filmmakers to abide.  If the rules can be made less arbitrary and less antagonistic to entertainment, even with these restrictions Chinese filmmakers will find a way to flourish, just as Hollywood was able to flourish (and even experience its Golden Age of Cinema) under the restrictive Hays Code established in the 1930s.  If the government can’t find a way to give its filmmakers at least some artistic license, the best and most influential Chinese films will continue to come from places other than the mainland film industry.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

China’s Box Office: Which Way to a Global Chinese Cinema?


by Albert Wang for China Film Biz

March 12, 2012

Well no surprise here – Hollywood dominated the mainland Chinese box office once again with 5 films taking a 73 percent share, reaffirming the fact that China’s film industry simply does not yet have what it takes to compete with Hollywood imports at its own domestic box office.

This is an observation that has been written about extensively here on China Film Biz over the past month, and deservedly so – it has been nearly two months since a Chinese film claimed the top box office spot in the mainland.  The last time was mid-January, when The Great Magician starring Tony Leung and Zhou Xun opened.  Even then, The Great Magician’s reign was short-lived, lasting all of one week before a series of Hollywood imports began their recent streak of domination.

It may seem like we’re beating a dead horse by mentioning China’s inability to produce popular mainstream films for its masses. This is perhaps especially true this week, when even beating a dead horse was something that China literally failed to succeed in doing at the local Chinese box office.

I am referring to the film War Horse, the Steven Spielberg-directed epic war adaptation that is based on a children’s novel.  War Horse, which was released in the US on Christmas of last year, found itself atop the mainland Chinese charts this past week, grossing a rather modest $8.8 million over the span of six days.

To put that opening gross in perspective, the week’s second highest grossing film, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, made $15.2 million in half as many days when it opened in China in mid-February.  The Taiwan co-produced romance Love, meanwhile, made $13.9 million over the course of its first seven days of screening on the mainland.

Also opening this past week was the US action-fantasy film animation Conan the Barbarian, which took in $3.1 million over six days to come in at number four at the box office.

Mission Impossible 4 and the previously released family animation Happy Feet Two rounded out the Chinese box office top five.

*****

A recent post here on China Film Biz highlighted several challenges that make it difficult for mainland Chinese filmmakers to make commercially successful films.   That post focused mostly on the rules and regulations that stifle what should very well be a vibrant and productive creative culture within the mainland Chinese film industry.  Rather than rehash the critical (and very true) observations made in that post, I’m going to focus here a bit on another aspect of the same question – i.e., what I believe needs to be explored in regards to actual film content if China plans on ever developing a successful global Chinese cinema.

Now everyone knows that China will be an increasingly important power in the 21st century.  But how will China’s developing economic and geopolitical might translate on a cultural level?

This is a question that the Chinese government is seeking to address in part through the development of a global Chinese cinema.  But does the Chinese government, headed by a consortium of book smart and savvy politicians with academic educations largely in engineering, know the first thing about what this global Chinese cinema should look like?

Chinese civilization is often described as being over 5000 years old, and it is in part this rich history that has led many scholars to assert that Chinese culture and society is one that often looks backwards in time with great reverence. You see this reverence for the past played out in Chinese cinema/media through the strong, recurring theme of nostalgia in many Chinese movies.   Traveling back in time became such a popular theme in Chinese television that SARFT actually banned the storytelling device from the mainland Chinese airwaves a year or two ago.

In my opinion, the Chinese people’s reverence for the past is an aspect of Chinese culture that will likely hinder the development of a global Chinese cinema. The recent government-produced period films Beginning of the Great Revival and The Founding of the Republic – which featured basically everyone and anyone who has any star power in China/HK/Taiwan – have had little to no global appeal.  As rich as it is, Chinese history has little appeal to the average global moviegoer.  You can even have a certified A-list Hollywood actor like Christian Bale headlining your Chinese period film, but it won’t get potential moviegoers off their sofas and into theaters.

It’s true that the US and the rest of the Western world are fascinated by China, but not the China of the past.  This should be obvious, especially when it comes to the average American – we are a people that aren’t particularly known for caring about history, even our own. Yes, people are aware of China and its rapid economic growth.  But it is not China today that people want to know about.  It is the China of tomorrow.

Ultimately I believe this is one of the major areas that needs to be explored by the mainland Chinese film industry if it is to succeed at developing a global Chinese cinema.  No one really cares what China looks like today, and in some regards they shouldn’t – the country is changing so fast, what you see today will likely be radically different from what you see five years from now.

What people will want to know – whether they realize it yet or not – is where China will end up, because to a large extent, depending on what this future destination of China looks like, so too will the rest of the global world look as well.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

China’s Box Office: Western “Lin-fluence”


By Albert Wang for China Film Biz

February 24, 2012

Another week, another Chinese box office dominated by Hollywood fare.

As expected, Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol continues its strong showing at the Chinese box office, earning $21.4 million at the Chinese box office over the week ending February 12th.  This brings Ghost Protocol’s total gross to a cool $76.7 million over 16 days.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island also had a solid debut, earning $15.2 million over just three days to claim the number two spot.   The success of Journey 2 comes at an interesting time, with the Chinese government’s recent announcement regarding the expansion of its film quota. The new rules, which have yet to take effect will allow an additional 14 “enhanced” films (i.e. IMAX or 3D films) into the Chinese theatrical circuit.  This is on top of the previous 20 films allowed under China’s imported film quota system.

Furthermore, Hollywood and other non-Chinese filmmakers should be able to collect a greater share of Chinese box office revenues, which has been a problem for many foreign film studios in the past.  The agreement, which was announced by Vice President Joe Biden after a meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping, allows for US companies to receive 25 percent of the Chinese box office revenues generated by their films, a major increase over the previous range of 13 to 17.5 percent.

In marked contrast to Journey 2, the new domestically made Chinese films did not debut nearly as well in China.  I Do and Romancing in Thin Air, two Chinese romance films looking to get a head start at the box office before Valentine’s Day, came in at the number three and four spots in the box office, respectively.  Their numbers however pale in comparison to Journey 2’s, with I Do earning a modest $3.2 million in three days (or one-fifth of Journey 2’s three-day rake), and Romancing in Thin Air earning a rather weak $1.84 million over four days of release.

*****

Last week, in light of the announcement of an $800 million film fund headed by Bruno Wu, the question was posed on this blog regarding just who could headline a Chinese global blockbuster film.  Given the dominance of Tom Cruise’s M:I 4 in recent weeks, it is pretty evident that the Hollywood’s star system is able to produce global stars in a way that China has yet to show it is capable of doing.  It remains to be seen whether China’s star system ever produce a Tom Cruise, or a Dwayne Johnson.

Coincidentally, it was also around last week that a young, Taiwanese-American athlete named Jeremy Lin began to take the global media world by storm.  The New York Knick’s fourth-string point guard was given the unusual opportunity to start for his team.  About two weeks and seven straight wins later, Jeremy Lin is arguably now the biggest topic of conversation in both the US and Chinese media, if not most of the media world in general.

Now it may seem unusual for Lin to be mentioned in a blog on the Chinese film business.  However, Lin’s recent success and unexpected global media coverage underscore the possibility that it may be Chinese-American talents who have the best potential to help Chinese cinema appeal to international audiences.

In just a span of a couple of weeks, Jeremy Lin now has over one million followers on Weibo (the mainland Chinese equivalent of Twitter).  Meanwhile, back in the States, Lin’s Knicks jersey has become the number one selling jersey on NBA.com.  The incredible trans-Pacific appeal of Jeremy Lin (or “Linsanity” as it has been dubbed in the US press) has few precedents in entertainment history.  While such Chinese entertainment figures like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Yao Ming have had some cross-over appeal, there has been no ethnically Chinese celebrity with as genuine of a universal appeal in both the US and China since the legendary Bruce Lee.

Is it valid to suggest that the next Chinese Tom Cruise will in fact be Chinese-American?  I suggest that this is likely, given the prevalence of successful Asian American entertainers throughout East Asia.

For instance, in South Korea, fully half of the popular boy band 2PM’s six members are Asian American. Popular Chinese stars like Wang Leehom, David Tao, Wilbur Pan, and Donnie Yen have all spent much if not all of their youths in the States.  Even Yang Lan, “China’s Oprah,” logged significant time in the United States earnng her Master’s degree at Columbia University.

Now I may be biased, but I genuinely believe that there is something about the Asian American experience that improves the odds of cross-over appeal between the US and China.  The recent coverage of Jeremy Lin seems to validate this notion. In order to achiev global success, Chinese films need stars who appeal to both ethnically Chinese and international moviegoers alike.  My bet is that the first film to succeed in the Chinese, U.S., and global movie markets will feature an acting talent who is ethnically Chinese but culturally.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

China’s Box Office: Hollywood Films Regain Dominance


[Note: If you’re looking for the article “China’s Film Investors Flex Their Financial Muscles in Hollywood” you may have been directed to the wrong link. Please click here for that article]

By Albert Wang for China Film Biz

February 8, 2012

For the second week in a row, Mission: Impossible 4 Ghost Protocol reigned at the Chinese box office, grossing a reported $39.4 million and bringing the film’s cumulative 9 day gross in mainland China to just under $56 million.

Out of the $24.3 million that MI:4 grossed over the weekend in the foreign theatrical circuit, $19.8 million came from China. To put the numbers in context, MI:4 grossed a mere $7.4 million in its opening weekend in Japan in December of 2011. Until recently, Japan was the world’s 2nd largest movie market. It took MI:4 film little over a week in China to gross as much as it did in a full month in Japan.

In second place was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which continues its decent showing in China with a gross of $3.56 million over the week, bringing the film’s 22 day total to $27.7 million.  Meanwhile, both The Viral Factor and All’s Well, Ends Well 2012 held on to the number three and four spots, grossing $2.9 million and $2.4 million, respectively.

The lone newcomer into the top five was Jonnie To’s Life Without Principle, which earned a rather mild $2.3 million over three days to claim the number five spot.

With the exception of To’s Life Without Principle, there was relatively little movement in the box office top 10.  And so this week it is worth noting the complete dominance Hollywood films have had in the Chinese market, with M:I 4 and Sherlock Holmes together accounting for a cool 75% of the mainland Chinese box office this week.

This dominance by a pair of Hollywood films comes at a time when it seems that just about anyone and everyone with deep pockets in China is looking to develop a film fund.  This week saw the announcement of Bruno Wu’s $800 million Harvest Seven Stars Media Private Equity Fund, as well as the announcement of a Chinese government-backed film fund to be overseen by China Mainstream Media National Film Capital Hollywood Inc. (HSSMPEF and CMMNFCHI, respectively; good luck remembering those acronyms), the U.S. division of China National Film Capital Co. Ltd.  Even retired NBA star Yao Ming has been reported to be looking into developing a film fund in recent weeks.

The purported goal of most if not all of these film funds is to produce Chinese films with a more global appeal.  And yet as we see from the Chinese box office this week, Chinese films have yet to find a way to effectively compete with Hollywood films on their own turf.   This is due to a wide range of issues, from overly restrictive government regulations, to a lack of quality source material being developed in China for the big screen, to Chinese audience’s demonstrated preference for Hollywood’s film offerings.  However, I’d like to posit another problem a globally appealing Chinese cinema faces.

China, in spite of all the capital being thrown at film funds of late, lacks the necessary star power to promote its films globally.   M:I 4 had Tom Cruise, Holmes had Robert Downey, Jr.  Without those stars headlining their respective films, it’s difficult to imagine either film performing as well as it has on the foreign theatrical circuit.

And so in spite of all the promises the various film funds have made regarding a future global Chinese cinema in the making, a big question remains:  Who will be the Chinese Tom Cruise?  The Chinese Robert Downey, Jr.?  Or the Chinese Shia Lebouf?

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

China’s Box Office: Bird Soars with ‘Mission 4’


By Albert Wang with Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 3, 2012

In mainland China, the seven-day-long Spring Festival is a holiday break to commemorate the Lunar New Year, and it is also the time when many make the long and arduous trip back home to celebrate with their families and relatives.  For about a hundred million  Chinese migrant workers this holiday break is one of the few times during the year they ever have a chance to visit home.  And so as one might expect, the Spring Holiday is an incredibly difficult travel season, regardless of whether one is traveling by plane or train.

If the week’s box office numbers are anything to go by, mainland Chinese are also increasingly taking time out of this hectic annual holiday break to enjoy movies at their local cinemas.  Weekly box office was up by about 25 percent (in US dollar terms) over the comparable holiday week last year, with a total of $62 million. The month of January was very strong, running 43 percent of January, 2011, though it should be noted that this is not a direct comp, since last year’s Spring Festival didn’t occur until the beginning of February.

The big winner for this week was the Brad Bird directed action picture Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol, which in a span of only two days took in an estimated $15.8 million at the Chinese box office, or well over half of M:I 4’s $25 million weekend total on the foreign theatrical circuit.

Paramount claims that Mission: Impossible 4 took in a haul in China that was five times greater than that of 2006’s Mission: Impossible 3 opening weekend in China.  But this feat may not seem quite so impressive when one realizes that China’s box office has grown by more than six-fold during that period.

Rounding out the top 5 for last week were Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Viral Factor, All’s Well Ends Well 2012, and The Great Magician.

During the week-long holiday, the mainland Chinese box office totaled 390 million yuan (roughly $US 62 million), significantly higher than the Spring Holiday Week numbers from 2011 and 2010 (320 million yuan and 340 million yuan, respectively).

What makes this year noteworthy is the fact that non-domestic films dominated what has traditionally been a solid week for domestic Chinese films.

Typically, the Lunar New Year ushers in a selection of ensemble Chinese films headlined by big Chinese stars.  The All’s Well Ends Well series, for instance, is an example of this distinct genre; the franchise dates all the way back to 1992, when the original All’s Well Ends Well featured a massive Hong Kong cast that included Stephen Chow, Maggie Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Raymond Wong, Sandra Ng, and Teresa Mo.

Just last year, the Spring Holiday week (Feb. 2-Feb.8, 2011) saw three Chinese films – All’s Well Ends Well 2011, My Own Swordsman, and What Women Want – take the top spots at the Chinese box office.

This year’s Spring Festival Holiday, however, saw fewer big domestic films in this genre.  The week’s top grossing Chinese language film, for instance, was the Hong Kong-produced The Viral Factor, which released a week prior to the Spring Holidays and had no thematic connection to the Lunar New Year celebrations.  The only newly opening non-Hollywood films to crack the top 10  last week—the Taiwan-made Perfect Two and the Shangjing-directed Fan Ju Ye Feng Kuang—opened to less than $5 million each.  The latter was in fact a Chinese New Year film directed by the director of My Own Swordsman, a comedy that played to big opening numbers last year.

It remains to be seen whether 2012 marked a fundamental shift in box office behavior over the Chinese New Year Holidays. It may be that the Chinese government prefers to see domestic films dominate this culturally important holiday week, and would thus implement policies to favor domestic films.  This could have been the reason that M:I 4’s release came at the tail end of the holiday. Then again, with so much money being spread around during the Spring Holidays, party officials may not mind sharing in the profits that a Hollywood blockbuster like M:I 4 or Sherlock Holmes can rake in.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

China’s Box Office: A Holmes-y Reception


by Albert Wang with Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 31, 2012

Note: Due to an unexpected week’s delay in China’s box office reporting, we’re just now putting out the report for the week ending January 22nd, with the report for the week ending January 29th to come shortly.

We can only speculate as to why China’s box office numbers were delayed last week. The hold-up may have been related to SARFT’s recent crackdown on box office misreporting and under-reporting. Apparently new systems are currently being implemented to prevent the widespread practice of selling tickets for one film and then writing the name of another film on the face of the ticket. This sort of manipulation allows monies paid by the ticket buyer for one film to be funneled to another.

When the numbers were finally released they showed Warner Bros’ Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows to be last week’s big winner at the mainland Chinese box office with a decent $10 million gross. This may come as a bit of a surprise, given that the original Sherlock Holmes movie was viewed by some as a relative flop in mainland China when it was released in 2010. NYMag, for instance, pointed out that while Avatar earned in China about one-third of what it made in the US, the original Sherlock movie’s China release earned just one-eighteenth of its US box office haul.

Perhaps the first film’s underperformance can be attributed to China’s unfamiliarity with the Sherlock Holmes brand, but Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has had no such marketing woes. The sequel is on pace to significantly outdo the original at the Chinese box office.

In second place with $7.3 million was Dante Lam’s newly released thriller The Viral Factor, reportedly Taiwan megastar Jay Chou’s last starring role in an action movie. The film also stars Nicholas Tse in yet another gritty and nuanced “bad guy” role. Stylish Hong Kong director Lam, whose most acclaimed film is 2008’s Beast Stalker (also starring Nicholas Tse), is known for making his films chock full of car chases and explosions — not to mention the occasional male actor literally crying his heart out.

The rest of the Chinese box office leaders include the previous week’s top film, The Great Magician (starring Tony Leung and Zhou Xun), the animated film Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf 4, and the 2012 installment of the All’s Well Ends Well series, the Chinese New Year comedy that stars many of Hong Kong’s biggest stars. With an opening weekend tally of just $2.2 million, an 80 percent drop from the 2011 edition’s first week result, the numbers for All’s Well Ends Well 2012 don’t bode well for continuation of the series.

The Taiwanese romance You Are the Apple of My Eye, while dropping five places to the eighth spot at last week’s box office, continues its strong showing, having already grossed more than all 2011 Taiwanese releases in mainland China combined.

Meanwhile Zhang Yimou’s war epic The Flowers of War has wound down its theatrical run on the mainland with a cumulative gross just below the $100M mark. Assuming the reported numbers are accurate, even though Flowers stands as the 3rd highest grossing film ever in the PRC, the film’s initial theatrical returns will fail to repay even half of its $90 million production cost.

Cumulative box office for the week was $40.8 million, up by 13 percent as measured in dollars (up 7 percent in Chinese yuan) over the same period last year. This would be a nice bump in most territories, but given that the mainland’s screen count has risen by 50 percent since January, 2011, theater operators will undoubtedly be disappointed with the weekly result.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.